Wednesday, August 26, 2009


These are things I do now:

Go on bike rides with my mom and dad.
Alphabetize things at my dad's office.
Throw away my mom's 4 year old catalogs.
Avoid the boxes I am supposed to be going through in my room.
Take naps.
Avoid unpacking my suitcase.
Make lists of jobs to apply for and non-Kenyan foods I want to eat.
Plan floating trips and a visit to Grandma's house.
Walk places.

I could get used to this.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Leaving on a jet plane...

This is my last night in Kenya, at least for now.

I am going to miss many things about my experience here,
but i am

to see all of my loved ones.


USA here I come!

Our Work in Kibera

This summer I have had the opportunity to "work in the field".

I LOVE this type of work. I like to be in there, where its dirty and smelly... there is something wrong with me in the head, I know, but I just love it.

I also understand, however, that just because I love it, does not mean its for everyone. And lot of people ask me what in the world I DO on a day to day basis.

So here is a 'sneak peak' into what it is like to do work in the largest slum in Africa.

Disclaimer: not all of this is pretty.

First of all, this is my team. Aren't they lovely? They truly are, let me tell you. And not just to look at. I have spent LITERALLY 24 hours a day with these girls. Kelly and I even shared a bed until a week ago when I threw out my back and have since been sleeping on the couch, which is actually an upgrade. There are not many people in the world who could eat, sleep, work, play, etc etc together and make it out alive. We were SO lucky. I have gained 3 lifelong friends out of this experience. And I know all of their dirty secrets.

Every morning we would wake up and go to the edge of the Kibera slum. It wasn't too far from where we live, so one of our friends would usually just drop us off. Then we would walk for about 40 minutes into one of the 'neighborhoods' of the slum - Silanga. The walk looked a little something like this:

As we got deeper and deeper into the slum, the conditions would get worse and worse. Human feces is EVERYWHERE. Since there are no sewage systems in most of it, people defecate in little plastic bags and toss them. So essentially, we walked on poop.

Here's an upclose look at one of the 'flying toilets' right after I managed to step on it (and some people actually think this work is glamorous?!?):

As we walked into Silanga, we would hear a chorus of "MZUNGU!!!" (white person) "HOW ARE YOU!!!! HOW ARE YOU!!!!" from hundreds of children. Most of them don't speak English, but they surely know how to as how we are. This was precious at first, but after weeks and weeks of it, it kind of started to get to all of us. I actually had a nightmare of thousands of children running after me yelling "HOW ARE YOU I AM FINE HOW ARE YOU".

When we finally got to Silanga, we would do what is possibily hardest to do for Americans but the most common thing in the world here - -- we would wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Eventually one of our community contacts would meet us, and we would chat for a bit. (PS apparently I cannot stand up without my hands on my back).

We would then walk with a community member to whatever section of the neighborhood we would be interviewing in for the day. This was was usually MUCH more difficult than the walk in - with pretty extreme conditions. Silanga is one of the poorest neighborhoods of the largest slum in Africa, so you can just imagine...

We would often pass through areas where we literally had to step in the open sewage. It must have been hilarious to watch us try to avoid it at all costs. Meanwhile, of course, we were passed regularly by women carrying huge jugs of water on their heads.

Many of the scenes we witnessed were just heart-wrenching, and the conditions unbelievable.

Occasionally, we would pass through areas that had stick bridges over running rivers of sewage:

Or by actual rivers which had TURNED into rivers of sewage:

But it was amazing at how quickly we were able to adjust. Even to things like the smell, which trust me, is miraculous.

The women we were interviewing usually welcomed us into their homes. Here is the passageway to a little neighborhood in which we interviewed for a day:

(PS we about all ended up in that sewage - to get to the door, we were literally straddling the trench to try not to fall in, but it was a near fiasco for us. The women in this neighborhood said that the biggest health problem is that their children fall in this sewage and then get sick... and I don't doubt them for a minute).

Our interviews lasted about 50 minutes each. We asked a whole series of questions about Community Health, Water Collection, Sanitation and Toilet practices, and Community Involvement. The interviews were intense, and the women were FABULOUS through all of it. Here is part of our team administering an interview:

Another, earlier interview: (which was terrible because of all of the extra people standing around):

During breaks (did I mention that we WAIT a lot?!) we would often play or talk with the ubiquitous children. They love to see their picture.

Here is Renee visiting with a child who had been left on top of a roof to play... (yes, on a roof...)

We could not have done ANY of our work without the help of our translators and community members. Here is a picture with Rina, one of our fabulous translators, and Sadique, our key community member who helped us set up all of our interviews:

Part of our job also included 'observations' about how the water and sanitation project was doing. So we spent a lot of time visiting the 8 water and sanitation facilities that were funded by Rotary:

Some of them were doing ok, but some.... were not doing so great. Many of them had no water due to rationing, and some of them were completely non-functioning and piled high with trash when we arrived. It was incredibly difficult to realize that things were so far from where they were supposed to be:

But, we rallied. And now, things are looking MUCH more optomistic.
Overall, we interviewed about 50 different women. Once we finished interviews, we had to compile, code, and analyze all of our data, which we usually did from home:

And I am delighted to report that yesterday, we handed over our final report. It was 25 pages long with all sorts of things we had discovered during our time in the field. Our findings were truly interesting. Hopefully I will be able to share some of them soon.

So our work here is now complete.

It was hard.

I mean, really hard.

There were times where I was the most frustrated I have ever been in a project.

But man oh man did I learn a LOT this summer, about things I never could have anticipated.

And you know what, I already actually miss the slum.

I am a REALLY going to miss these ladies:

And that's my story, folks.

a Saturday outing.

A couple of weekends ago, while we were working on coding and analyzing the data we had collected from the field, we were literally going stir crazy in our apartment and decided we needed to break out of Nairobi. So we called up George, a van driver that is now one of our dearest friends here, and came up with a plan for the day.

He and his wife drove us toward the Great Rift Valley. Unfortunately it was a very hazy day, but it was still beautiful:

We all thought that this sign was more than slightly humorous/inappropriate since the term 'Third World' isn't usually the most.... flattering of ways to describe a place. Not to mention non-PC.

Our goal was to go up to Lake Nakuru National Park, but we decided not to go into the National Park since they wouldn't give us the student discount ($30) and instead were charging $60. George's wife was outraged at how much they were charging and since we've all been to quite a few animal parks anyway, we decided to pass. But it was not a total failure: we did get to see a baboon daddy. I made the girls close the doors of the van since I've seen these guys in action before.... my South African buddies will remember a particular story....

On the drive back we happened upon Lake Elmenteita, where we stopped for lunch and to see the hundreds of flamingoes that frequent the area. Unfortunately, the lake is almost completely dried up due to the severe drought plaguing Kenya right now.
A view of a few flamingoes and a very dry lake:

Here is our crew! Just minus Katie who was taking the picture. George and his (very) expectant wife are between Kelly and Renee, and the other man was our Masai guide.

PS - we love George and his wife SO MUCH. His wife is one of the sweetest people I have ever met - actually they both are. Their warmth and friendship has been one of the absolute highlights of our time here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tell me Congratulations

Today I graduate
with a Masters in International Development
from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies
at the University of Denver.

I hope they will mail me my degree.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I recommend - The End of Food

I'm reading The End of Food by Paul Roberts.
And I think everyone else should too.
It is soooo interesting - I can't believe how little I actually know about where the food I buy in the grocery stores comes from - and how many of the big food brands are actually owned by the same companies.

It is especially interesting to me since I am from an agricultural area and have family in farming and ranching. This book addresses how little of the money we pay for food in the grocery stores or restaurants actually goes to the producers of the food.
I'm now super excited to get home and talk to my grandparents to find out more about what is going on.

Anyway, its fascinating.

PS - after you read this you will probably never be able to eat processed food again. Just a warning.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Great Jerrycan Trek

Ok, so I have to give a disclaimer:

I don't really believe in handing out stuff when I travel to other countries. When I travel places, I can tell when groups of white people have come before me bearing gifts, because I get mobbed by groups of children chanting whatever that gift was ('give me a pen!' 'give me candy!' 'give me money!' etc.) In other words, it sets an expectation that seems to be something like this: when white people come here they give us things.

This is upsetting. Not just because it is hard to build relationships with people when they are expecting something from you right off the bat, but also because it builds on this idea of the 'great white hope' - the idea that white people come and hand out things, give money, fix whatever problem is at hand. I don't want to be that or do that.

That said, we decided as a group that we wanted to give something to the women that we interviewed that would help promote health for their families. Each interview lasted almost an hour and it was pretty intense. The women gave us their time freely, even though they had dozens of other things they needed to be doing, so we felt that giving them something small was the least we could do. We did not tell anyone that we were giving them anything (in other words, we were unwilling to 'bribe' people to interview us) and we didn't give anything out until the very last day that we were in the field.

We also thought through exactly what we wanted to give.
We all agreed it had to be something sustainable (not something like food or something else consumable - we wanted it to be something that would help the families out long term), and we wanted it to be something we bought from the community in which we were interviewing to support local business.

And the verdict was....... the Jerrycan.

Jerrycans are the tools women in Kibera use to collect and store water:

They are actually old cooking oil containers that have been washed out. Each one holds about 20L of water. And most of the families we interviewed only had a few, which limited the amount of water they could collect and store each day. In light of the fact that there is SEVERE water rationing in the Nairobi area these days, this meant that they were often not able to collect as much water as they needed for their families.

So............... Sadique trekked us over to the Kibera market:

And introduced us to this man (the Jerrycan man, if you will).....

And he hooked us up with 48 Jerrycans.

Yes, 48 Jerrycans. And even though they look nice and yellow and light, they are actually quite heavy, even without water. There were 8 of us, so each of us carried 6 back. I tried many different methods of carrying them, but this was the only one I could come up with that worked:

And we trekked back, about a 40 minute walk, to where we had done our interviews. People laughed uproariously at us the entire way, and we laughed right with them... I mean, we looked pretty ridiculous.

We then retraced our steps and handed them out one by one to each of the women we interviewed. And when we woke up with sore arms the next morning, we had DEEPLY more respect for the women who haul 7 or 8 of these full of water back and forth to their house every day.